Listening Productively

by Dawn Field

Be always listening ... to learn your language of choice

You know what your native language sounds like inside and out. If you want to learn another language you need to get its sound into your brain.

This is where productive listening comes in. Productive listening is hearing a language while having access to the meaning of the words.

Listening productively in person means talking to someone who is trying to help you learn. For example, a kind soul who will speak at your skill level, stop to explain words or phrases you don’t know, and be patient enough to help you correct mistakes.

While talking to a native is the best way to learn a language, it’s also great to have the right teaching materials at hand: ones that are pitched just right for your level and learning style.

Where can you find tons of interesting teaching materials for free and do some great productive listening? YouTube.

YouTube is bursting with language learning videos. Almost every language is represented by teachers who speak English. What you need to do is find what fits your needs.

The first huge benefit of turning to YouTube is that it’s all there for free. Second, the wealth and diversity of videos available is quite astounding. Hearing your target language spoken by different people in different contexts will help improve comprehension and retention of the material.

The second great benefit is that most of these teachers are language lovers themselves and look to the comments to improve their videos. If you have questions you can often get in touch. If you have material you want, you can suggest it.

The third benefit is that once you hone in on a list you like, you can plug them into a playlist and listen until you know them all. While picking videos, you can probably learn something from almost anything you watch or listen to. If you want to systematically cover ground, you’ll want to find a series of videos. If you put good time into making your playlist, you can listen to it until you learn it.

Whether it’s first words, pronouns, nouns, like animal names or ‘things in the kitchen’, common verbs, adjectives, such as the names of colors, adverbs, or idioms, you can usually find something to match your needs.

It’s the focus on gaining familiarity that is so crucial. If you are serious about learning a language, you want to be hearing the vocabulary and content you need until comprehension becomes automatic.

The only potential hold up in mining this treasure trove is digging up the right stuff for you. If you are watching and listening and not picking it up the content, move on to an easier video or one that presents the material differently. The best videos are those that offer you a matching ‘mind set’ for your learning abilities, skill-level and time commitment.

A playlist for beginner language learners

When you are a novice, several types of videos will be of special interest. You might want to start by getting an overview of the history of the language – for example, learning which other languages its related to, its major features, and where it came from geographically and culturally.

As you move into learning the language, the first thing you’ll want most is to hear the language spoken. You need to get familiar with what the language sounds like so you can understand words, phrases and sentences more easily once you start picking up vocabulary. You might want to pick some songs in your target language. It’s also good to invest in learn any new letters, or letter combination, in your target language. If your target language has a different script, then you need to cover that too – like Hindi’s use of Devanagari.

You can also pick up the sounds of a language by just jumping right in and starting with some beginner vocabulary and survival phrases. Next, you’ll want to find some dialogues, vocabulary builders and grammar explanations. Eventually, you’ll move to ever more complex types of content and finally to the advanced option of watching films with subtitles. Good thing is, it’s all there on YouTube.

So, what’s a slutstation anyway?

So, what’s out there for starting off in Swedish? Below are some examples for getting started depending on what you want to learn first and how advanced you are in Swedish. [slutstation = terminal / terminus]

History and Culture

Here’s a nice video that takes you deeper in the history of Swedish and gives a high-level overview of the Swedish language.


When you are ready to hear some Swedish, there is no better place to start than music. You can certainly use music to get to the sounds if you like ABBA! All the big hits are of course also recorded ‘på svenska’, or in Swedish. In picking songs, you can pick what you like best, as hearing anything in your chosen language will help you pick up its lilt, but the very best are the ones where you can hear each word clearly (usually slower) and at best have an easily accessible vocabulary.

Here’s an ABBA song with a great beginner vocabulary that is sung slowly enough that each word is clear: En av oss (One of Us).

There’s of course more out there in Swedish, with English subtitles, like this song from the Jungle book.

Alphabet and Pronunciation

It’s a necessary thing to eventually learn the sounds and alphabet of your target language and here’s the run down for Swedish – in brief, you’ll have to put in some effort, but it’s very do-able. The alphabet is nearly the same as for English – it’s the Latin alphabet we all recognize, minus ‘W’ (which is only found in loan words) and three extra vowels at the end (yes! After Z come Å, Ä, and Ö). So, the vowels are where you need to put some effort – in total, there are eight and they can be long or short, for example, depending on whether they come before one or two consonants. The whole alphabet and a complete explanation can be found in this comprehensive video, but there are lots out there, so pick one you like!

Videos like this one have the names of the letters of the alphabet. There are lots of alphabet videos for Swedish kids, as well, if you prefer to go native, which is great! You can learn basic vocabulary with such videos as well, as there are pictures! While the previous video has many words for each letter, this one goes faster as there is only one word for each letter and it’s a song!

One thing you have to acquire if you want to read Swedish are the sometimes unusual spellings and pronunciations, which are wonderfully explained with many examples here. For example, a k at the start of a word can be ‘sh’. That means the word for meatballs, köttbullar, is pronounced ‘shöttbullar’. Ah, and Swedish also has a pitch accent, which is part of what gives it it’s special sound.

First words

Sometimes the first words to learn in a foreign language are just cultural tokens – and in Swedish there are many ‘in jokes’ when comparing

Swedish and English. Slut has a very different meaning in English and Swedish, and in Swedish is means ‘end’. So, slutsstation is the ‘end station’ of a tram or train, or its final stop. If you like humor, you’ll love this Simple Swedish video which explains why ‘slutstation’ is not what it sounds like to speakers of English.

First mini conversation

So, in keeping with the above videos in ‘going native’, here’s a first words video that is all på svenska. This is clever and it slowly builds up sentences giving the meaning of words with gestures and pictures.

Basic phrases and vocabulary Here a video filled with beginner phrases, with English translations and the teacher is in a forest! If you enjoy his style, it’s a series, with basic verbs, nouns and other topics, like taking a walk around Stockholm.


Okay, somewhere you have to fit in the basic grammar. There are lots of videos, like this one which explains the most important verb, att vara, or to be. Luckily, in this case it’s even easier than in English.

Dialogues Here’s an easy bit of Swedish with lots of beginner phrases and sentences that offers a great start. The best part is it also shows the written Swedish and English subtitles and they intentionally speak quite slowly and clearly.

This one is has a more advanced Swedish dialogue with English subtitles that is clever because the interviewer just keeps asking Swedes what they think is ‘typical Swedish’, so you learn about Sweden as well. The most oft repeated Swedish thing is lagom, the art of ‘not too much, not too little’.

Here is a follow up video where the interviewer asks a bunch of students what they are studying. It’s more advanced, but once you want the vocabulary to say if you are studying to be an engineer or a philosopher, or whatever, this is the kind of thing you need.

Vocabulary Lists

Once you start getting the hang of the language you can start filling in the usual word lists like the names of the animals, common fruits, and the colors. You can choose how you best like to learn. The first two teach words with pictures and the third with a song. This is no English in any of them. Other videos might be more helpful to you because they provide more background explanation, both Swedish and English, so you can listen and not have to watch the screen to pick up new words.

When you need more vocabulary, if you like cramming in word lists for breadth of knowledge, here are 2000 nouns and the Swedish-English version of Audio Dictionary which is 9.5 hours long!


When you are ready to hear books read in Swedish, there are recorded books (but no translations). At the very beginning, this can be good for looking at the words and hearing the pronunciation – especially for realizing what you hear and what you see can sometimes be quite different in Swedish – until you learn the right Swedish pronunciations for all the letter combinations.

Getting exactly what you need

If these videos don’t float your boat, just look at some of the others. Your learning reaction to them will be related to lots of things that are specific to you, like how quickly the material is presented and how well the content fills critical gaps in your current knowledge.

So, even though there seem to be endless language videos on YouTube and you can potentially request new ones to be made by some of these authors, what if you can’t find exactly what you need? Or what if you want to turn your word log into something you can listen to? Or you want explanations of grammar or the context of certain words? Maybe you need to make your own videos or sound recordings.

If you just want to hear your language, you might find it’s covered in a platform like Quizlet, where you can upload word and phrase lists. In Swedish, for example, you can even ask it to read whole chunks of text.

If you want help creating new material, you’ll need a native speaker. One of the best ways to do this is to ask a friend who’s a native speaker to work with you. If you don’t have any around you can seek out a teacher online in one of the language platforms that use remote access learning. Many of these teachers record your lessons anyway, so you just need to make sure you request the content you need.

One great idea, is to get your teacher to help you build a bunch of phrases and short sentences around the vocabulary in your growing word log. This kind of repetition will accelerate the creation of your language foundation. If you already know the vocabulary, you can focus on word order and getting your pronunciation correct. Once you can understand basic combinations of words you can start creating your own – and again, you’ll draw on your word log first. Each time you give your teacher new material to record, you can hand over your word log as well, so the teacher will know what words to draw from that you’ll already understand. As you have time and interest, you can also add new words to grow this list and start filling in the gaps on particular topics you want to be able to talk about.

Here, it really behooves you to think about how you best learn. Deciding factors in making your learning material is the content, how often it’s repeated, how fast or slow, whether you hear or see the translation, or both, if you want time to repeat yourself, if you want a chance to try to translate it yourself before the recording continues, etc. In time, you’ll hone in on patterns that help you best and they will likely evolve as you acquire more knowledge of your target language. The act of designing such learning materials will also help you absorb it faster – especially as it uses content that you found interesting enough to request.

If you stick with this, you’ll build up a library over time – your own custom playlist – that you can come back to again and again to review. Your recordings library thus supports and extends your word log, and brings it to life. Your experiences creating and recording the word log, will also be real-life uses of this vocabulary that help it sink in and stay. Perfect foundational material for picking up more!

About the writer

Dawn Field is Lamberg International Guest Professor in the Department of Marine Sciences at Göteborg University in Sweden.


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